Old Highway 17
I have a vague memory of the first time I encountered God. I shouldn't say “God” for at that time in my life I held absolutely no concept of the divine.
“God's” a funny word. We should really be careful when we use that word. It means so many things to so many people. To a child it's an old man with white hair and beard sitting on a cloud. To some it's an impersonal entity or force running or guiding the universe. To others it's a universal-mind itself. To many God has been imbued with a personality - “personhood”. I suppose this is necessary for our very finite minds to wrap themselves around a very infinite being – the Being. The problem with this is that we also tend to pass on all too human traits. Jealousy, anger, Tribalism, Nationalism, Hatred, let alone using God as a tool to further our own agendas and ends.
Allow me to just say that I can remember the first time I encountered something other.
My mom and dad and I were on a car ride. It was long before my sister was born – during that long chapter in my life as the only child.
I can remember that I had absolutely no sense of time-reference. Not days of the week, not actual dates (numbers), not even larger time-frames, like Grade-1, or Grade-2. It must have been pre-kindergarten so I'll put myself as being under 4 years old; probably 3.
I can remember the car traveling what felt like west-bound (not from my childhood memory, but from how I remember it as an adult), but towards to main-city of Ottawa with a body of water (river?) on my right and rocky fields to my left. (For any locals, I figure it was Old Highway 17 between Ottawa and Wendover).
We stopped at what I can only remember as a sort of rocky quarry. I can't remember any machinery or equipment so it probably was more of a outcrop of rocks than a quarry proper, but there was definitely what appeared to be a sharp (cut stone) wall behind, with a litter of stones and rocks everywhere.
I remember my goal was to find and collect rocks! (Not any sort of special rocks. Just rocks!) It felt like I must have been miles away from where my parents were. I was busy 'exploring', but in all likelihood, I'm sure I wasn't far from them.
And then, suddenly, I became aware of a presence. Like someone or something accompanying me. Friendly, warm, caring. I never questioned whether it might have been my imagination or not, I think I was simply too young. But that memory has always stuck with me.
Ultimately, it was the genesis of my searching out God.
However, simple and powerful that one 'encounter' with the unknown was, it wasn't my any means the only one.
I have had several paradigm-shattering encounters and experiences in my life. This earliest one in the quarry was the first. Then there was my dream of The Storm in '83. My mother's death in '87. My precognitive dreams the led to my wife and marriage in '90; the end of a 10-year exile from God in '97. The birth of my autistic son and an experience 20 years later at my mother's grave.
All of these experiences have feed this quest and journey and search.
Allow me to switch gears – change topics. I think I might go at this from a different perspective.
I have never been one for institutional religions and I know by some people, I have been accused of taking the easy path; the path of least resistance.
I have been told by some that being an adherent to a particular church or temple (or religion or even community) requires a commitment not unlike a relationship, or even a marriage. By these same people I have also been told that I fail to make this sort of commitment. I should actually be insulted (most specifically because of the comment to failing to commit to a community) because – really – what I am being accused of is a lack of loyalty, and loyalty is something I do not lack.
I have recently reflected upon, not so much my experiences themselves, but upon my attempts to search out the truth behind them, and what I discovered.
Often times, I so wanted the truth to be enlightening, to lift all worry and anxiety and give me an overwhelming sense of peace, that I would be more than willing to suspend my disbelieve, to suspend my cold analytical eye. And sometimes, briefly, it would work.
As my searching brought me into more and more contact with more and more people and others' experiences my understanding of God, my belief of God, grew and changed. Ideas and images that I struggled with died and newer, better ones came into existence. Certain problems with the idea of God ceased to be issues once viewed from a different point of view. Spiritual maturity? Possibly.
I have often wondered whether I subject myself to believing something hook-line-and-sinker. (Because when I think back to numerous experiences and involvements with various groups it's kind of embarrassing. My, how I've changed). Am I just lost soul, floating from one to another faith, desperately embracing everything or anything like a drowning man clings to anything thrown to him? Maybe my naysayers are right.
I came to realize something that I eventually called -ologies.
You know, as in Archeology. Biology. The science of, or the study of any said topic.
However, it was with Theology that this method fell apart in my opinion.
As a biologist studying a paramecium under a microscope this same analogy absolutely could not work – or at least would fail miserably – in the realm of theology.
You could not objectively observe and study God from a distance. (And on a side note, I think that is what's wrong with so many churches, religions, and theologists today).
In this particular “science” you must go through the looking glass. The biologist would need to use his microscope as a slide to sit side-by-side with the paramecium he is studying (and hope it doesn't mistaken him as a food source!)
You cannot 'study' God. You experience it. The act of “studying” God is to change you. It doesn't work any other way. Or so I thought.
I don't think I take the path of least resistance. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that 'how' I pursue my searching for this encounter I had as a 3-year old puts me in danger.
I think what I 'do' is not so much like a lost soul adrift, nor like a drowning man desperately clinging to absolutely anything thrown to him, but more honest and more akin to traveling through the looking glass. Putting myself 'out-there' and allowing myself to be affected and changed by my encounters. Not objective and distant.
But the more and more I've practiced this, the more and more I realized that it wasn't God that I was encountering and experiencing, but people. It was people's hopes and dreams and ideas, and projections that shaped what we hope God is. (And even what God isn't in the case of Atheists).
I've realized that I am a potter.
I've spend most of my life inadvertently making theological pottery. Beautiful China if you will.
I've also realized that God has spend most of his life breaking it.
So, my question is really, do I, as a spiritual sojourner, indiscriminately swallow numerous 'truths' hook-line-and-sinker, or do I practice going-through-the-looking-glass? I have found precious few brave enough to travel down this path. Allowing oneself to be changed is a scary thing.
Path of least resistance? I think not.